Let’s make XMPP fun again!

I recently had a fun conversation by Facebook Messenger, and I’m disappointed to report that it was actually a really great experience. The same goes for GroupMe.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what makes the experience so good, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to complain that not only are most of these chat services proprietary and either aren’t sustainable businesses or make their money by selling your personal data in some form or another, but they also aren’t interoperable. You like Kik but your friend is on Whatsapp? Too bad.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this. There is a standard for synchronous chat with a healthy software ecosystem around it: XMPP. Google Talk is based on it (sort of), and it can even support things like geolocation and read receipts! The problem with XMPP is that users — most of whom don’t care about technology and just want to talk to their friends — are left to find their own hosts and clients.

So here’s my modest proposal: can someone make something like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, Kik, GroupMe, Viber, etc., (fun and social, easy to add/remove people from groups, optional read receipts, optional geotagging, easy to attach images, even cute emoticons, usable from web or mobile, with indicators of keyboard size to help others manage expectations), but make it a freemium (and maybe, but not necessarily, nonprofit) organization: host accounts for the free customers, but let people bring their own XMPP account if they pay.

It’s counterintuitive to let people pay for the privilege of having a company or organization do less for them (not hosting the account), but I think it makes sense. Those who pay are the ones who care about things like interoperability and not having their data aggregated and sold. And ideally there will be enough of them to support the free users and keep the whole thing sustainable.

With a system like this, I could use Adium on my Mac, a client of my choosing or their own killer mobile client, and maybe even be able to log into my own XMPP account via their web client.

Looking around, I think Whatsapp seems like the right company to take this on. Aside from already being extremely popular, get that asking people to pay for a service they find valuable is a Good Thing. (I know there were rumors of a Google acquisition, but those seemed to have died down and I hope it stays that way.) If they added a web client and charged, say, $10 a year for BYO XMPP, that’d be it. Maybe they could even make the $1/year tier free if they did that, although I don’t think they should.